When it comes to the controversy over recess, Tacoma school officials may be looking at the issue backwards.
Many educators view recess as something that detracts from learning. It’s been reduced or even done away with at some schools so teachers will have more classroom time to focus on skills that will improve test scores.
Now the school board is studying whether some schools have gone overboard and whether more recess time needs to be scheduled. That could be a good thing – if it’s done right, according to the respected Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated exclusively to health and health care.
Instead of detracting from learning, the foundation found that if recess includes structured, adult-led play, it can actually help make classroom time more productive. And it offers the single best opportunity during the day to get children active – no small consideration at a time when 64 percent of children fail to get as much physical activity as doctors recommend.
The foundation points to the kind of work done in many schools since 1996 by Sports4Kids. The nonprofit organization trains people to lead students in organized games and play activities during recess and work with them during the day and after school. The coaches also help kids learn about nutrition and violence prevention.
After just a few weeks of the program, “significant changes” were seen in the behavior of children on and off the playground. Children who used to stand on the sidelines started playing. They became more confident and learned conflict-resolution skills. Significantly, both students and teachers reported that children were more productive and less disruptive in the classroom.
For Tacoma schools, structured play during recess would have another advantage: It would count toward the state requirement of an average 100 minutes per week of physical education. Unstructured recess does not.
With Tacoma’s elementary school day increasing by 30 minutes in the 2008-09 year, adding productive recess time could be a good option.